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Complainant Name:
Messrs Birchall Blackburn on behalf of Mr Michael Williams

Clauses Noted: 3, 4, 6, 10

Publication: Daily Mirror


Messrs Birchall Blackburn solicitors of Preston, Lancashire, complained on behalf of their client, Mr Michael Williams, that an article in The Mirror (formerly the Daily Mirror) of 18 October 1996 about the teenage murderer Learco Chindamo named and quoted his "one-time friend", the complainant's daughter. She was then 14 and the article gave her description of how Chindamos "gang" operated. The complainant said she had been put at risk and that the reporter, who was working for a news agency not for the Daily Mirror, had not adequately identified himself as a journalist when he spoke to the complainant's daughter and that she had made it clear that she did not wish to be identified, all in breach of Clauses 4 (Privacy), 7 (Misrepresentation), 8 (Harassment) and 12 (Interviewing or photographing children) of the Code of Practice.

The complainant said his daughter spoke to the reporter after friends pointed her out as someone who knew Chindamo, then under arrest. She gave him details including her address, although she had not apparently known he was a reporter until told later by her friends. The complainant said the reporter called at his daughter's home and telephoned several times: she called him back to ensure her name was not published and declined his offer of money for further information. After subsequent telephone calls, her guardian asked him to stop telephoning.

The newspaper replied that the interview had been conducted independently by a news agency and was about Chindamo not the girl's own welfare. Details were published in good faith but it had learned subsequently that the agency intended to remove the girl's name from the copy filed to newspapers but omitted to do this.



In respect of the complaints of misrepresentation and harassment, the Commission considered that precise information about the way the initial contact had been made by the agency could not reasonably have been ascertained by the newspaper and that in any case there was insufficient evidence to support these complaints. The girl may not have fully appreciated her situation but it appeared she became aware she was communicating with a reporter and sensibly requested that her name be omitted from any story. She was apparently assisted by her guardian in terminating contact. The Commission therefore made no finding on this part of the complaint.

As for the rest of the complaint, the Commission was concerned to learn that the reporter had approached the girl's friends given their likely age and was equally concerned that given that the central issue related to the complainant's daughter, her guardian appeared to have been alerted to the situation only after the reporter's initial approach.

The Commission understood the complainant's concern that a 14-year-old girl may not have appreciated the risk of possible reprisals and noted his view that the newspaper should have checked with the news agency whether the girl's parent or guardian had been consulted. An editor has responsibility for the content of his or her publication and the Commission agreed that in these particular circumstances a check with the news agency would have been appropriate and would have prompted the intended deletion of the girl's name.

The Commission recognised both that the newspaper had accepted the agency story in good faith and that there were practical difficulties in making pre-publication checks on the precise circumstances under which interviews from agencies were obtained. It requested, however, that the newspaper review its procedures for accepting pieces nvolving children, especially those at particular risk, from non-staff sources.

While the complaints were upheld because of the importance of strict adherence to the Code's provisions on the interviewing of children, in the particular circumstances the Commission did not formally censure the newspaper.


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